I hope that you have enjoyed my other posts sharing my personal breast cancer and mastectomy story. If you missed them here are the links;
Tips to deal with a Mastectomy and Breast Cancer
Breast Cancer and Radiotherapy
This post shares my thoughts about breast reconstruction. I believe that there is no wrong or right decision about whether to have reconstructive surgery. Its all down to personal choice and what is important to you. Please research thoroughly before you make any decisions and ask as many questions that you feel you need to. This ensures that the decision you make is the right choice for you.
I begin by pointing out that my experience with breast cancer began over 20 years ago and things may be very different now. Even if sharing my story only helps one other person then I will be happy.
No Immediate Choice of a Reconstruction
The doctors told me that I had stage 3 breast cancer and this meant that I could not have a reconstruction immediately. Leaving my breast skin and nipple attached to reconstruct my breast later was also not an option for me. This was because with a grade 3 tumour I needed my radiation treatment to be directly onto my operation site.
My Reconstruction Choices
I was given the choice to have a reconstruction later and I looked into this very carefully.
I’ve never been very big and because of this the doctors wanted to use tissue from my back to reconstruct my breast. This involved moving muscle, fat and skin taken from my back and would have left a huge scar.
The doctors were particularly keen for me to have this option. At a follow up appointment they even started drawing onto my skin where they wanted the cuts to be made. I hadn’t even said I wanted one!
My second option was to take tissue from my stomach and this would have left a huge scar from hip to hip. This was the doctors least preferred choice because I was very slim.
If I had decided to go along with a reconstruction I felt that all I would gain was a cleavage along with another scar. Being only a tiny A cup at the time I never had much of a cleavage anyway.
Appearance After a Reconstruction
I knew that my reconstructed breast would never look like it did before. It would show a huge scar right across the middle and it would not have a nipple. I was told that a nipple could have been created by having further surgery at a later date. Also the new breast would feel less sensitive and sometimes even numb.
I found out that there was no guarantee that the reconstruction would match up to the size and shape of my natural breast. This would mean going through further operations to get it right.
One of my greatest fears was the thought of having to have more operations as my shape changed. The main reason for my fear was because of my age. At only 26 years old my shape was bound to change a few times in the coming years.
Possible reasons for further operations to alter the breast shape;
- Change shape as you age because a woman’s natural breast will begin to droop as she ages
- Lose or gain weight
- Get pregnant
My next fear is one that must face anyone who has had breast implants.
A friend of mine had a reconstruction and she was happy with the outcome. Unfortunately years later it leaked and I remember her being very concerned about the damage the leak may cause. Thankfully this has been resolved now and she is fine.
Happy with the Result
Another friend also had a reconstruction and was very happy with the result. So much so that she was very proud of her new body and in particular while wearing a bikini.
I can’t comment on how invasive her surgery was and I don’t know what she was left with after surgery.
Periodically over the years I have continued to be offered reconstruction surgery. I’ve lived without a breast now for nearly as long as I’ve lived with one, probably longer if you take into account my childhood.
I admit that certain things about not having a breast bugs me but not enough to have a reconstruction. I don’t want the risks and I certainly don’t feel the need for anymore scars.
I’m very lucky to have a kind and loving husband who loves me just the way I am.
Challenges of Not Having a Reconstruction
Now I share the challenges that I have faced because I decided not to have a reconstruction.
The hardest thing for me to deal with was clothes.
Having the mastectomy meant I needed a whole new wardrobe. You may think this is a good excuse to buy more clothes but it was a challenging experience to go through.
Many of my clothes were too low cut to wear now because of my high scar. I donated a lot of my favourite tops and dresses to charity. I found this very hard and upsetting but at least they were going to a good cause.
At only 26 years old I was very worried that I would end up looking frumpy. My new style became short dresses because I could show off my legs to make myself feel more attractive. It must have worked because I still received wolf whistles. After what I had been through they meant an awful lot for my self confidence.
I remember having huge issues with some of the clothes shops I went to. They only had communal changing rooms which was the last thing I could cope with after a mastectomy. Entering the changing rooms I would find that everyone was undressing and changing in one big room together. So I just turned around and walked straight back out again. There was no way I was letting anyone see me undressed because everything was still so raw.
Mastectomy clothing is very expensive and finding this out was a huge shock at first.
Wearing a prosthesis means that I need to wear special bras and swimwear. These are a lot more expensive than regular items despite the VAT exception that you get from having had a mastectomy.
When I first had my operation the choice of swimwear was horrendous and ugly. Not the sort of thing a young lady wants to wear and I was very embarrassed to wear them. I’m pleased to say that there have been a lot of improvements in the designs.
I have two favourite choices for my mastectomy wear and here is their websites;
- Amoena UK
- Nicola Jane
My operation was performed by the NHS which meant that I was entitled to a replacement prosthesis every two years. This saves a lot of money when you see that they are well over £100 each.
The last time I went to the hospital for a prosthesis was because I had lost weight. I really struggled to find a suitable replacement. The prosthesis I did eventually leave with was extremely heavy and uncomfortable. I ended up taking it back and deciding to wear my swim forms instead. I bought these myself but I feel so much more comfortable in them. They are hollowed out at the back which makes them much lighter while still giving a good outside shape.
Take a look at this link to see what the prosthesis forms I use look like;
Foam leisure forms
I also use foam leisure forms which are a great relief from a silicone prosthesis when I want to relax. Some people even use them to sleep in.
They are also useful for doing an activity where I worry that my silicone prosthesis might get damaged. In the first couple of years after the operation I wore them to go to theme parks. I think at the time I needed to feel the thrill of being alive and the roller coasters helped with this. Although I do need to wear baggier tops with these foam forms because their shape is not as good.
Here are examples;
The weight of a standard prosthesis makes the straps of my bras cut into my shoulders. Therefore its a great relief to use these swim and foam forms instead.
With the heavier breast forms I found that I had to change my bras much more regularly. This is because the elastic strap on the side of the prosthesis loses its elasticity far quicker because its weight constantly pulls it down. Since the operation this has meant far more frequent replacement bra expenses.
I had a lot of tissue cut away and over the years further tissue and muscle has withered away and died. Even now the area where my breast once was is still very sensitive.
Not wearing a prosthesis
I have to be careful when I wear clothes without any breast form on at all. A number of times I’ve forgotten that I don’t have my prosthesis on. I’ve leant over the back of my kitchen chair for instance and immediately wish I hadn’t. It hurts my chest as it connects with the wooden back of the chair because there is no muscle to protect me.
Due to this my favourite item of clothing to relax around the house in is my fluffy dressing gown. I remove my breast forms and still have good support over my chest area stopping me from accidentally hurting myself.
Even with a prosthesis on my chest is still vulnerable. Once someone’s elbow accidentally contacted with my left side where the breast had been when they turned around. This wasn’t all that long after the operation and it brought tears to my eyes.
Other physical contact can hurt too. Cuddling my husband while naked our skin can become stuck together. When I try to move away the scar tissue can stick and boy does this hurt!
To help with my chest’s sensitivity I use wash puffs because this is far gentler than washing my chest with my hands.
Being Caught Out
Fortunately my husband doesn’t mind me walking around the house dressed but without my bra and prosthesis on. Sometimes I feel the need to do this because I feel so uncomfortable.
I won’t answer the door like this though because it is clearly obvious that the breast is missing from my left side. Otherwise this would make the person answering the door feel uncomfortable and embarrass me.
I don’t like people visiting unexpectedly for the same reason. I need to know that they are coming so that I can ensure I have a breast form on.
In conclusion I’m happy overall with the decision that I made not to have a reconstruction. I realised that after a mastectomy whichever choice I made would not have been perfect and that I couldn’t expect to have what I once had. The important thing is to make the best of things and love who I am now.
Wishing you long life, health and happiness.
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